Geneva, 23 March 2007 — Since November 2006, Thailand has issued compulsory licenses for three medicines, including the AIDS drugs efavirenz and lopinavir/ritonavir. This procedure authorises the country to begin producing or importing generic versions of the drugs. The use of compulsory licenses to improve access to essential medicines is fully consistent with the World Trade Organization TRIPS* Agreement, which sets out the international rules on patents. In using compulsory licences to promote access, Thailand is also heeding to the advice of the World Bank.
In reaction to the Thai health authorities’ decision, Abbott, the Chicago-based multinational pharmaceutical company, has decided to withdraw all applications to register drugs in Thailand, including a crucially important HIV/Aids drug (heat-stable lopinavir/ritonavir, marketed as Kaletra), and to not bring to market any new medicines in the country.
The medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) strongly condemns this decision. ‘What Abbott is doing is trying to protect high drug prices by actively denying an entire population access to new medicines it produces. This is as unprecedented as it is shocking. We consider it unethical and utterly unacceptable,’ said Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Director of MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. ‘We call upon Abbott to reconsider its decision.’
MSF furthermore calls on governments and relevant international organisations to express their support to all countries that make use of the flexibilities in patent laws. The silence from policy makers on what is happening in Thailand today is unacceptable. If governments are serious about promoting access to medicines for all, they must unequivocally support such actions in the spirit of the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health.
‘We fully understand people and organisations in Thailand that are choosing to boycott Abbott’s products as a way to express their anger at being held hostage by the company’ said Paul Cawthorne, Head of Mission for MSF in Thailand. “MSF will continue to support these organisations in their efforts and struggle to access affordable new medicines.”
* Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights